Dennis Woltering / Eyewitness News
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BATON ROUGE -- Members of joint a legislative committee grilled East Bank Levee Board members about the lawsuit they have filed against the oil industry.

Levee board members argued the lawsuit is justified and could provide the billions of dollars necessary just to maintain current flood protection.
John Barry told the joint legislative committee that every member of his East Bank Levee Board feels their job is to protect people lives and property. And he says the oil and gas industry often failed to abide by work permits that required them to repair any damage they caused.

'Every scientist agrees that the industry has done extraordinary damage to our coast, even the industry concedes it,' Barry said.

The levee board gave a picture presentation, showing industry working in the wetlands and maps of resulting land loss. Steve Estopinal said the map is no cartoon; it the impact of land converting to water around New Orleans.

'By 2100, the last year of the 21st century, New Orleans, will be in effect an island,' Estopinal said.

He said it's like a rock band making big money and destroying the hotel room before leaving town. 'The only way we see to do it, is to have the people that trashed the hotel room pay a little bit to fix it up.'

Sen. Robert Adley questioned why the levee board didn't coordinate with other state agencies before filing its lawsuit, and said the board does not have the independent authority necessary to file such a lawsuit.

'I heard your comments early on. You're an independent board. I have to tell you it's really not the case,'
Adley said.

Committee members questioned if the levee authority needs the industry's financial help to maintain levee protection, why didn't board first ask the industry for help.

'And working with them instead of punching them in the nose seems to be might have been a better step,' Sen. Gary Smith said.

Garret Graves says the lawsuit conflicts with the state constitution and says his coastal protection and restoration authority has oversight.

'The other levee districts in the state in a meeting on Friday opposed the lawsuit and recognized that policy issues such as this are the job of the CPRA,' Graves said.

Sen. Adley said the people the board is suing 'didn't break the law,' but Estopinal of the levee board said, 'We believe the industry did break the law.'

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